Monday, 31 July 2017

TV Review: The great war looms larger than ever as Game of Thrones finally brings ice and fire together

S07E03 - "The Queen's Justice"

Contains Spoilers.

And there we have it. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, sharing a scene at last. It's taken six seasons and 63 episodes to get there, and finally Game of Thrones' two most iconic and most frequently discussed characters are allowed to occupy the same frame. After such a long build up, after waiting so long to see two great characters eventually come together, the question I asked myself at the end of "The Queen's Justice" was this: was it worth the wait?

You're goddamn right it was. Last week I talked about how this season of Game of Thrones has seen the show make a welcome return to dialogue driven pieces, to two characters simply being allowed to talk it out. "The Queen's Justice" is comprised almost entirely of such sequences, which we'll come to individually as we go on, but the absolute pinnacle of season seven so far lies in Daenerys' and Jon's first encounter.

After reuniting with a dwarf and dodging a dragon, Jon walks into Dragonstone's throne room to find Daenerys sat atop the coveted seat. There's the odd line from Tyrion here and a little contribution from Davos there, but for the most part writers (and showrunners) Benioff and Weiss allow the scene to be driven by Jon and Dany's dialogue with each other. Dany wants Jon to bend the knee and swear allegiance to her claim to the throne, but Jon has no such intention. For Jon, the real war is north of the Wall, and it's approaching. This is a pair of characters with vastly different intentions and ideas, and the episode's script brings them to the surface beautifully.

Simply watching these two characters talk oozes surface level thrills, but there's incredible depth to their dialogue that takes the scene even further. Jon and Dany are both individuals forged by the reputations of their fathers, they're leaders who have earned their power through respect and adoration rather than fear. They should get on like a house on fire, but how do you ask a Queen to abandon her long awaited goals in favour of something she doesn't even believe in? Similarly, how do you tell a King to look past his greatest fear and support a woman he has only just met? It's an impossible meeting with impossible results, and the show relishes in it. Kit Harrington is terrific, but it's Emilia Clarke that walks away as the episode's MVP. Her delivery is commanding yet considered, her emoting is abundant but layered - it's a genuine tour de force of a performance.

Jon and Dany's little tiff isn't the only terrific dialogue piece the episode grants us though. Back in King's Landing, Cersei meets with Ellaria Sand in the cells below the city. Well, I say "meets" as if both sides arranged the discussion. Cersei gets revenge for the murder of her daughter by using the same method to poison Tyene Sand, forcing Ellaria to watch as her own daughter dies and decays in front of her over a long period of time. Cersei's twisted side has always been something the show has explored on a number of levels, but on a smaller scale this might be her darkest moment yet. Cersei is a vile, irredeemably evil character, but it's tough not to feel thrilled by the way she carries this sequence. It's a welcome moment after a poor start to King's Landing this week, which was quite frankly ruined by the mere presence of Euron Greyjoy. Euron is showing all the hallmarks of a novel character who will become one-note rather rapidly, and I find myself enjoying his scenes less and less with each passing week.

Elsewhere, Bran Stark returned to Winterfell! And he reunited with Sansa! And...the scene didn't quite work. I understand and appreciate the angle Game of Thrones was going for here, and in concept it's a strong idea. Bran can see everything that ever happened, everything that is currently happening - that's bound to mess with your head a bit. Rather than explore this though, the episode uses it to make Bran simply come across as cold and distant, it doesn't really sit right and ultimately sacrifices any sense of emotion between between him and Sansa. The scene is forced into an awkward place, a back and forth of dialogue that is filled with strong ideas but can't seem to work out how to discuss them. It all culminates in a shiver inducing line from Bran about Sansa's wedding night, and it's hard to really feel like the show earned such a nasty moment.

"The Queen's Justice" eventually closes with a sequence that pulls the focus back onto the war at hand. Grey Worm and the Unsullied arrive at Casterley Rock only to find it borderline empty, with the whole Lannister army instead soaring into Highgarden to enact revenge for Olenna Tyrell's defection to the Targaryen side of the war. Olenna is to be executed, but if there's one thing we know about Jaime Lannister it's that he isn't his sister. He offers Olenna a poison, a merciful way to die painlessly, she ensures. But we know Olenna, she never does anything by half: after downing the poison, she finally reveals to Jaime that she was behind Joffrey's poisonous murder. It's a stunning parallel, made more effective by the fact that the scene rides on two entirely unexpected reveals. I certainly didn't have Olenna down to die this week, and I definitely didn't think she'd go by telling Jaime she killed his son. Diana Rigg, you will be missed.

After that misfire of a premiere, Thrones is back in the game. The pieces are moving now, drastic plays are taking place and major characters are taking big hits. Cersei is looking into the near future with the Bank of Braavos, all while Dany allows Jon to mine the mountain of Dragonglass beneath her city. "The Queen's Justice" isn't quite as well rounded as last week's "Stormborn", but it's still a terrific hour of television that excels in an area I thought Game of Thrones had lost its mojo for. Still, less Euron Greyjoy please. He is going to become a nuisance very soon.

Notes -
  • I'm not sure I'm a fan of the Casterley Rock sequence, either. After six seasons of hiding it away, we finally got to the see the much heralded castle, and it really wasn't all that impressive. Tyrion's narration of the scene felt forced too, a bit like an overly serious version of the "wait for this whole thing to blow over" sequence from Shaun of the Dead.
  • Also in tonight's episode: Theon is saved by a nearby ship! He lies about what happened and says he tried to save Yara, when really he ran away. The Ironborn don't seem too pleased with him.
  • Also also in tonight's episode: Jorah appears to be cured of his greyscale! That's a nice touch, and it's nice to see Sam in a scene that isn't wasted on comic relief.
  • Missandei listing all of Dany's titles only for Davos to respond with "This is Jon Snow. He's King in the North" is a solid contender for one of Thrones' funniest moments.
  • Jon and Tyrion's first scene together here is somehow more emotional and nostalgic than Sansa and Bran's. Boy did this episode mess up that Stark reunion.
  • Melisandre is leaving Westeros to avoid reaping the punishments of her actions, but she vows to Varys that she will return. She believes she will die there, and he will too. If that isn't menacing, I don't know what is.
  • Could Dany learning the truth about Jon's death and revival prove to be a huge factor in how their dynamic grows? That would be good. That whole arc felt like a rushed way to get out of a self written corner, it would be great if the show found some deeper use for it.

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